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A new venue for the San Diego Symphony’s outdoor performances opens this week

Cultural Facilities

A new venue for the San Diego Symphony’s outdoor performances opens this week

Rady Shell at Jacobs Park was funded almost entirely by private donors.

By John Caulfield, Senior Editor | August 2, 2021
Rady Shell at Jacobs Park in San Diego sits on nearly four downtown acres. Images: San Diego Symphony

Rady Shell at Jacobs Park in San Diego provides that city's Symphony with a stunning outdoor performance space that will be functional year-round. Images: Courtesy of San Diego Symphony

This weekend, after a 13-month COVID related delay, the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, developed and managed by the San Diego Symphony, officially opens on 3.7 acres of the city’s downtown Embarcadero district.

The $85 million Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, designed by the project’s Lead Architect and AOR Tucker Sadler Architects, is the first permanent venue for the Symphony’s schedule of outdoor classical concerts. It aspires to be the same kind of draw as the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the nation’s only other year-round outdoor concert venue operated by an orchestra.

The park is accessible to the public for free 85% of the year, as the Symphony spent $3 million to rebuild and upgrade the adjacent basketball courts and outdoor athletic equipment at Embarcadero Marina Park South. It added 34 donor benches, which are illuminated at night and were built around the venue’s perimeter and along the promenade between the venue and the San Diego Convention Center. 



The Rady Shell in San Diego has two acoustical systems

The Rady Shell is amplified by an on-stage sound system as well as a second system at each side of the stage and behind the audience.


With its flexible seating capacity of 10,000 within a 1.25-acre audience area, Rady Shell at Jacobs Park features walkways, open-air dining pavilions, and recreational facilities. The Shell itself showcases a 4,800-sf stage wrapped in a 33,000-sf canopy provided by Australia-based Fabritecture. U.K.-based Soundforms, with architects from Flanagan Lawrence, Expedition Engineers, and ES Global, designed the Performance Shell, expanding and adapting the concept to accommodate a large orchestra, chorus, and soloists. (The Rady Shell in San Diego is 57 ft high and 82 ft wide.) Tucker Sadler was responsible for the overall design of the venue at Jacobs Park, including backstage artist support, three professional kitchens, underground restrooms, the seating area, and the public park that offers views of San Diego Bay and the city's skyline.

The Rady Shell uses two acoustical systems designed by Salter in consultation with sound designer Shawn Murphy: an on-stage Meyer Constellation Acoustic system, and an L-Acoustics system that projects sound from six towers three on each side of the stage.  JRLX and theater consultant Schuler Shook designed the venue’s lighting, and Solotech provided the audio-visual elements. An LED lighting system developed by Horton Lees Brogdon Lighting Design illuminates the exterior canopy.



The performance space is situated in the downtown Embaradero district

The venue provides views of this city and its waterfront. Image: Sal Villanueva, Tucker Sadler Architects


Nearly all of the money raised to fund this project came from private donors including Qualcomm’s founder Irwin Jacobs, who proposed the idea for an outdoor concert space two decades ago, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Rady Shell also brings the Symphony—which was founded in 1910 but in 1996 was forced to liquidate its assets under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code—full circle.

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is designed to host more than 100 concerts and events year-round.

Other members of this project’s Building Team include Gardiner & Theobald (project manager), Coffman Engineers (SE), and Burton Studios (landscape architect).

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